Time to get smarter about embracing mobile devices

As more workers take their jobs mobile, we need to get far smarter about supporting mobile technology that isn't company-blessed.

Spent a chunk of yesterday desperately trying to get my iPhone to pick up my hosted Exchange account, so I could keep my calendar up to date. No dice, even though I followed the instructions provided by my hosting provider to the letter. P.S. I don't appreciate being made to feel clueless by your phone support people. P.P.S. It was extremely easy to tie into my Google account, so there may be a case for me to switch my entire calendar in a few weeks.

Anyway, my predicament is not uncommon, if the volume of forum posts about this issue are any indication.

I bring this all up in the context of a great new stat from IDC that I also came across over the weekend: By the end of 2010, there will be approximately 1 billion mobile workers in the world. By 2013, the research firm predicts that number will hit 1.2 billion.

The United States supports the highest concentration of mobile workers; about 72.2 percent of the workforce was mobile in 2008 and the number is expected to reach 75.5 percent by 2013. That's about 119.7 million workers. Japan will support roughly the same percentage of mobile workers, with Europe crossing the half-way point around that time. IDC believes Japan and the United States will peak in this timeframe.

So what does this have to do with my iPhone?

For starters, IDC doesn't define what technology these mobile workers are using to hook into their corporate networks. Consider another set of research recently released by the analysts there: shipments for smartphones (devices that converge a moble phone with data access capabilities) hit 54.5 million untis in the fourth quarter of 2009, which represented a 39 percent increase. Roughly 174.2 million units were shipped in 2009, which was a 15 percent increase for the year. As a percentage of the entire worldwide mobile phone market in 2009, smartphones were about 15.5 percent.

There are all sorts of implications here.

First, companies need to get smarter about how these sorts of devices are supported within their information technology policies. Will you or won't you let smartphones tap the corporate network? Better yet, will you or won't you allow smartphones that were NOT company-supplied hook into corporate information.

Mobile technology has blurred the division between our work and non-work lives, which means you probably expect your employees to be available far beyond traditional work hours. Does that mean you expect them to lug around two different mobile devices? Or do you just accept the fact that people will communicate for personal reasons on a work-sanctioned mobile device? Or, vice versa: using a personal mobile smartphone to handle urgent work problems after hours.

There's even a line of thinking that ownership of notebook and laptop computers will also blur, with some workers using a piece of technology they purchased themselves for work purposes. That carries its own problematic implications: How do you enforce a division of personal and corporate data? What happens when someone leaves the company? How do you provision or deprovision access?

Sitting above all this is the question of who pays for and manages the wireless services and support any type of mobile device. How do you keep costs from spiraling out of control, especially when many of these costs are hidden in travel expense reports?

These are questions that need far more attention than they are being given today.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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